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Authors: Melinda Leigh

She Can Scream (6 page)

BOOK: She Can Scream
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He wouldn’t always be small. She wouldn’t always be in charge. But until he got bigger than Ellie, he was gonna have to be more careful.

CHAPTER SIX

“I need to ask you for a favor.”

“What is it?” Leaning on the porch railing, Luke clenched his fist around the car key until the teeth bit into his palm. He stared at the meadow that sprawled across the road from the house. He didn’t have to look at Wade to know what was coming, and to know there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it.

“I’d really like you to keep an eye on Brooke.”

The moisture evaporated from Luke’s throat as if he’d swallowed a mouthful of sand. Responsibility for a woman’s life was his personal nightmare. Literally.

“I’m really worried.” Wade paced to the edge of the porch and back. His boots scraped the wide planks. “She interrupted some bad shit tonight. A reporter already called the house. It wouldn’t take much for this guy to find her too.”

“You’re probably right.” Violent people did violent things. Horrible acts that ordinary men couldn’t comprehend. Innocents were murdered every day on this earth. No one knew that better than Luke.

“I know my sister. She’s not going to let it go.” Wade stopped. He swept both hands across his buzz cut.

“Because of what happened to her roommate?”

Wade leaned on the railing next to Luke and stared out over the field. “Brooke never got over it.”

Tall grass rippled in the breeze. Silvery moonlight reduced the scene to shades of gray. There were some things a person carried to his grave.

“So, will you do it? At least for the next week.”

The wind stirred dried leaves in the corner of the porch, and panic eddied in Luke’s gut. He wanted to say no. The last thing he needed was responsibility. He’d come up here to hang out with his grandmother and relax, to clear his lungs and his head. But only a selfish bastard turned down a friend who was getting shipped out to Afghanistan, where distractions could get a man killed. And there was no way Luke could let anything happen to Brooke, with or without Wade’s request. Luke’s mouth was moving before he could stop it. “Of course I will.”

Wade slapped him on the shoulder. “Thanks, man. I appreciate it. That gives me some peace of mind.”

Ironic. The situation did the opposite for Luke. After all, the last woman who’d been his responsibility had ended up dead.

It was going to be a long night. Brooke lifted her head from the back of the chair as Wade came back inside. The deadbolt slid home.

Wade pulled up a chair. He spun it around, straddled it, and rested his forearms on the back. “I want you to make me a promise.”

Suspicion cut through Brooke’s exhaustion.

Wade interlocked his fingers, prayer style. “I asked Luke to look out for you for the next week. I want you to let him.”

“You did what?” Brooke choked on her water.

“It’s not a big deal.” Wade shrugged. “He’s around, visiting his grandmother.”

“I hardly know him.” Having him around 24-7 felt dangerous in a way that had nothing to do with tonight’s attack. Luke roused emotions she had no desire to awaken. Emotions she’d worked hard to bury.

“I know him, and I trust him.” Wade crossed his arms over his chest. “That should be enough for you.”

“Oh, really?” A familiar mix of irritation and affection nudged some of her tension out of the way. “You’re awfully bossy for a little brother.”

Wade’s face reddened. His eyes went sharp, already primed for what Brooke suspected was military mode. “I’m serious. Luke is a good man, and you could use one of those.”

Mental warning bells clanged. “Are you trying to fix me up with your friend?”

“Maybe.” Wade’s shrug was too nonchalant. “You don’t seem to be having much luck on your own.”

Oh. Bull’s-eye on her self-confidence.

Wade’s eyes closed briefly, and his chest expanded in a deliberate heave. “I’m sorry. That was offsides.” He reached out and gave her hand a squeeze.

Brooke accepted his apology by returning the clasp. “Luck has nothing to do with it. I’m too tired for the whole dating thing.” Plus, she hadn’t met anyone in years who made her body tingle. She was only thirty-eight. That wasn’t too old for tingling, was it? She remembered the intensity of Luke’s gaze. No. She could still tingle. Right down to her toes.

“In that case, I’m hand delivering you a man,” her brother teased.

“Wade, that’s not funny! You have to stop trying to fix me up with your friends.” Since her divorce, she’d been disinterested in trying again. One failed marriage felt like enough. Why set herself up for more loss?

Her brother let out an exasperated give-me-strength breath. “Please, Brooke. For me. Just give me the peace of mind that Luke is here. You don’t have to date him, just let him keep you safe. By the time he has to go back to New York, maybe the cops will have arrested this scumbag. I wouldn’t want to be distracted over there. That might be dangerous.”

“Now that’s low.” Brooke shook a finger at him. “I wouldn’t do this for anyone else.”

“I know.” He grinned, then sobered. “You promise?”

Brooke held up three fingers. “On my honor.” Her vision clouded with unshed tears. “What time do you leave tomorrow?”

“I’ll be out of here before dawn. We’ll get the good-byes out of the way tonight, OK?” Wade’s eyes misted, and for the first time, Brooke realized how much leaving was costing him. “I’m sorry I didn’t get around to painting this house.”

“You’ll do it when you get back.”

The “if” hung in the silence between them.

Wade broke the sad tension. “You really should think about selling this place. It’s way too much upkeep, and it’s too isolated.”

“I love this house. It’s a lot of maintenance, but I have no mortgage. I can afford to keep it up. I’ve just been short on time lately.”

“Still keeping up with those self-defense classes you teach, though?” Wade wanted the same thing as everyone else in her life, for her to move on.

“That’s only two hours a week.”

“Time isn’t really what you sacrifice.” Wade put a hand on her shoulder. “I appreciate that you want to give back, Brooke, but you should give yourself a break. What happened to Karen wasn’t your fault.”

Brooke wished he was right, but Wade didn’t know the whole story. Other than Brooke, only two people knew everything that happened that night. One was in prison, and the other was dead.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Boom.

The force of the blast threw Luke to the floor face-first. Glass shattered. Smoke and falling dust filled the air. The echo of his heartbeat muffled sounds with an underwater effect, as if his head had sunken to the bottom of a muddy lake. Through the auditory haze, fire roared. People screamed.

An explosion. He needed to get out of here. Sherry. Where was Sherry?

He lifted his head a scant inch, but the pain that ricocheted through it blackened the edges of his vision. He inhaled, and the salty, coppery taste of blood ran down the back of his throat. He touched his nose, and his hand came away wet and red. He looked beyond his hand. There was blood everywhere. A lake of it spread toward him across the commercial carpet. Way too much to come from his nose. Just way too much.

Seeking the source, he lifted his head, slowly this time. His eyes drifted right. The horror made him want to squeeze them closed. But he couldn’t.

His assistant, Sherry, was crumpled on her side. Blood splattered her skin and soaked her clothing. A gash in the side of her neck gaped. One arm stretched across the floor. Her fingers twitched. Luke grabbed hold. Her weak squeeze drenched him in terror.
Crack.
The world shifted. Debris rained down on him. Survival instinct kicked in, and his free hand covered his head. A
heavy object landed on his back, the impact shooting the air from his lungs.

Yet his eyes were still locked on Sherry’s face. Her body didn’t move, but her eyes pleaded.

He was almost grateful for the pain that burned through the concussion and overshadowed everything. Agony seared a path across his back. He rolled, bumping up against something unforgiving.

The impact jolted Luke awake.

Breathing hard, he took stock. Rag rug under him. Bed to his left. The dresser he’d just slammed into on his right. The steady tick of the grandfather clock in the hall. His grandmother’s house. Not a burning high-rise in Manila.

Disappointment floored him nearly as much as the nightmare. After three months of intensive therapy, he thought he’d kicked the late-night creep show.

He glanced at the clock on the nightstand. Four o’clock was too early for breakfast. He sat up and waited for his heart rate to slow, his breathing to ease. Didn’t happen. His body was convinced a full-flight response was warranted.

He had a choice. Crawl under the bed and hide or get moving. Option number one looked damned appealing, but he’d have to come out sooner or later.

Time to get his ass in gear then.

He dressed in sweats and a hoodie, laced up his running shoes, and headed out into the darkness. He gave his eyes a few minutes to adjust, then jogged down the brick walk, the chill stinging his face and his lungs like pinpricks, his breath puffing out in front of him. The best cure for the need for flight was to give his body exactly what it wanted, a hard run.

His feet hit the road. His stride lengthened. On either side of him, the warm ground and cold night combined into a floating mist that drifted like smoke. He passed a meadow and the neighboring farm, with its burned-out shell of a barn. Arson, Gran had said. Not even the idyllic community of Westbury could escape violence. The smell of charred wood drove him forward. Luke ran harder, adrenaline-charged muscles eager for action. In New York, he couldn’t outrun the dream. The scents of diesel exhaust and burnt rubber followed him everywhere, reminding him of smoke and fire.

And death.

But here it was different. He put some distance between him and the rubble. Gradually, the sky lightened. The smell of damp grass and wet earth cleansed his nose. His pace and heart rate steadied. He pulled up suddenly. The old farmhouse rose in front of him, its solid bulk jutting into the predawn sky.

Not only had he run away from his past, he’d run all the way to Brooke’s house.

His psychiatrist would have a party with this one.

But last night, the vulnerability in her eyes had shaken him and given him the disconcerting urge to camp out in front of her house with a weapon. The impulse was primal and disturbed him nearly as much as his promise to protect her.

The windows were dark. Nothing moved inside or out. Was she awake? How badly did she hurt this morning? Had nightmares ripped her from her sleep during the night?

Sweat dripped into his eye. He wiped it away and turned his feet around. Brooke’s house was about four miles from his grandmother’s place. He had a long run back. Gran was an early riser. She’d have breakfast on the table for him before six. No sleeping the day away in her house.

With the panic burned off, he eased his pace on the return run, enjoying the countryside. A stretch through the woods filled his nose with the scent of pine. He passed cows and sheep. A small herd of deer dotted an open meadow. Heads snapped up from the deep grass. With a flip of their white tails, the animals bounded away as he jogged by.

By the time he turned into his grandmother’s driveway, he was covered in healthy sweat and more relaxed than he’d been in months, maybe even years. A light in the kitchen window told him Gran was up. He jogged up the porch steps and left his wet running shoes on the mat just inside the door. “Lucas?” His grandmother’s call was punctuated by a cough.

He followed her voice back to the kitchen. Her head of precise gray curls barely came to his chest. He leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.

She held up a hand and blocked him. “You’re going to catch my cold.”

“Never. Living with eight million people is good for the immune system.” Was it his imagination or was her papery skin paler than it had been yesterday? “You’re up early.”

“Couldn’t sleep. No sense wasting the day.” She cracked an egg into the same chipped porcelain bowl she’d been using for thirty years. Her nose wrinkled. “Go shower. Pancakes and bacon in twenty.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The shower was stocked with a bottle of generic shampoo and a bar of Ivory soap. Letting the hot water sooth his tired muscles, Luke raised the white block to his nose. The familiar scent filled him with warmth. He’d had a New York address for years, but Gran’s house was the place that always felt like home.
Though he’d only lived here for his high school years—after his parents had been killed in a car accident—they had been long years full of grief and turmoil and, ultimately, healing from his parents’ shocking deaths.

Could this old house work its magic one more time? Probably not in a week.

Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, he went back downstairs. The scent of frying bacon wafted down the hall. His stomach rumbled. He went back to the kitchen. As usual, the table was loaded with his favorites. He slid into a ladder-back chair.

Gran set a mug of coffee on the scarred table. “Eat. You have some weight to put back on.”

BOOK: She Can Scream
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